Less Is More. Or Is It?

Nov. 3, 2011
During the Holidays, the Less-Is-More Concept Never Tends to Work, but There Are Some Times and Places Where Less Does More
By Katherine Bonfante, Managing Editor, Digital Media

As I prepare for the holiday festivities, I ponder the real meaning of the holidays. I'm trying to convince myself that fewer gifts for Christmas, less food during Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, and less drinking on New Year's Eve is not only better, but it could mean more.

The less-is-more theory might result in me giving more meaningful gifts to my family and keeping my healthy diet and fitness program on track—not to mention keeping lots more dollar bills in my bank account. However, try convincing the kids that less is more when I buy them fewer gifts. Try telling my mother-in-law that the less of her rich, buttery dishes and sugary desserts I eat, the better it is for my health.

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During the holidays, the less-is-more concept never tends to work, but there are some times and places where less does more. When it comes to designing interactive interfaces or HMIs, fewer things could be a good thing.

Take for example our article "Operator Interface for the Operator," written by Filamatic's Jack Chopper. He says that machine manuals don't always get read, so industrial designers should design the operator interface in such a way where a manual isn't required.

I'm sure you can relate. How many times have you bought unassembled furniture and tried to put it together without reading the instructions first? If you were able to assemble the piece without having to use the manual, you felt like a superstar, right?

That operator interface is your customer's view of your machine, Chopper says. As a designer, you should spend the necessary time polishing its appearance and behavior. Read this article at to find out what you should consider when designing an OI.

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When it comes to streamlining or simplifying interfaces, less is not necessarily more. Industrial designers advise their peers to take the time to think through design changes. Throughout different stages of the design you always should test the interface and research what you can or should not take out of the design. Remember that whatever changes you decide on should not affect the interface's usability or functionality.

As an end user, can you imagine using an HMI where the help screens were removed just for the benefit of a simpler design? How about if the indicators for required fields on complex forms were removed? What if all the word-based labeling from buttons were replaced with confusing iconography? How would this impact your job?

Visit and share your experiences that showed you that less is not always more. Let us know if your navigation buttons suddenly went missing from your interface, or if your abort command suddenly changed from something simple like a click of the mouse to performing 20 different key strokes at once.